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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"#Struggles" (Craig Groeschel)

TITLE: #Struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World
AUTHOR: Craig Groeschel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. (256 pages).

Many of us are familiar with the images of technology. With modern smartphones, tablets, and mobile devices, most information are being distributed online instead of the traditional channels of print or even TV. Like most things in life, there is always a price to pay. With the convenience and speed of information dissemination comes the proliferation of other social problems like inattentiveness, distractions, addictions, and psychological problems never seen before. The irony is that even if we can be easily connected, that does not mean we are more relatable, or less lonely. With constant change happening to the technological world, what is happening inside our hearts and minds? How is technology helping and not helping us today? How is communication improved or deteriorating in a Twitter age? How is social media changing us? These issues are looked at by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of the second largest megachurch in the United States, Life.Church. As the lead pastor of the Church that popularize one of the most downloaded electronic Bibles (Youversion) on the Internet today, the author is uniquely qualified to write about the struggles of e-addiction in a technology world. He looks at eight fundamental struggles and how eight biblical principles can help restore some sanity into our crazy world. He begins each chapter with an honest look at what technology is doing to us, and how it can bring out the worst in us. He points out how some things dissatisfy us and gradually introduces the biblical paradigm.

The first is the struggle with constantly comparing ourselves with others. People prefer to hang out with the cooler guys, the more exciting programs, and the more glitzy events. The key desires are to achieve more, to conquer more, and to accumulate more. The truth is that even if we can fill ourselves to the brim, we will not necessarily be contented. It brings out the worse of emotions such as envy and unhealthy wanting. He then proposes three ways to recover a spirit of contentment: 1) Stop comparing; 2) Celebrate other people's successes; and 3) Be thankful.

The second is the struggle with the insatiable desires for "likes." The danger in using technology is to forget that technology is meant to enhance and not replace our relationships. Being "liked" on Facebook is not the same as real life relationships. Even the word "friend" is evolving in its meaning. The problem is that social media tends to have that sense of immediacy that does not pace well with true human longings. We need to recover intimacy just like how Jesus interacts with his disciples.

The third is the struggle with being a control freak. One modern example is the selfie craze. In wanting to take the best selfie possible, people become so self-obsessed with themselves that selfies is a modern representation of what it means to have one at the center of focus. Moreover, we are so infatuated with getting the best picture of ourselves that the things we post on social media are not our true selves but what we want others to see. Even when one receives phone calls, most people will decide their decision to pick out or reject calls on the basis of who is calling them. Not only do they choose what they want to post or project to the outside world, they choose who to answer to, what time to interact, and how much to veil themselves from others. Groeschel then brings us to the image of Christ, how he makes himself vulnerable and does not hide from us. Authenticity is often desired but few choose to offer it first. Like Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel," we can pray to Jesus to "Help Us Lift the Veil."

The fourth is the struggle with our tendency to be desensitized to sensational events. The social media age has ushered in an era where the most horrific and bizarre things we receive make us more numb as our news feeds get flooded with more of them. The more we view such things, the less sensitive we become. Eventually, we may not even care about the massacres or the tragedies occurring in some distant part of the world. When social media causes us to be more self-absorbed, we are less likely to care for others. We become more distant people. We become more arm-chair commentators without empathy. We need to recover compassion, which is to love as Jesus loved. It is far easier to click than to demonstrate acts of compassion.

The fifth is our tendency to hide our inner struggles and our secret desires for impure things. People look at images. They can also lust at them. They learn from the Internet. They can also sin through them. Knowing our boundaries is a major step to help us do the right thing. Three consequences of secret sins are: 1) Lust increases; 2) Conviction for purity decreases; 3) Peace disappears. When we want to pursue God, we cannot do it half-heartedly. Having secret sins will definitely impair our pursuit of holiness. Integrity is what we do when no one is looking.

The sixth is  the struggle with constant criticism. From anonymous comments to cyber bullying, many Internet users nowadays criticize (or troll) people from the hidden cloaks of anonymity from undisclosed locations. It borders on gossip and ill will. It makes us wonder how such people are bent on destroying the lives of people on the basis of "frank communications." The Bible teaches us to speak the truth in love. Using a series of diagnostic questions, Groeschel helps us understand the importance to check our communications. Ask if they are helpful? Are we respecting privacy? Are we facilitating unhealthy gossip? Like the Apostle Paul, we are encouraged to expect all manner of criticism; to embrace people; and to endure the tough times.

The seventh is the struggle with idolatry. I was wondering why it took Groeschel so long to come to this. We have more idols in our lives than we like to think. From the perspective of a woman from India, Americans worship three main types of idols: 1) Food; 2) Television; and 3) Cell Phones. On the latter, the many things we do with our phones show us how infatuated we are. We need to find ways to dethrone these idols. We need to recover the heart of worship. For some, it may mean total disengagement from social media. For others, it mean a re-examination of our digital behaviours. For us, it is a matter of asking us: "What does it take for us to long more for God?"

Finally, the struggle with "constant distraction." This is a biggie in our selfie-age. People sleep less as they let their digital devices keep them awake. The modern phobia is "nomophobia," which is the fear of not having our digital devices with us. Take a cyber sabbath if necessary. When Jesus calls, are we ready to pick up? We need to replenish rest.

Our generation is struggling more than we actually realize. Some of us are walking digital zombies. We turn on when we are engaged with our phones or tablets, but turn off when we talk to fellow human beings face to face. The modern smartphone is fast changing the way that we live. In fact, it is not what we do to technology that matters, but what technology is doing to us that is crucial. The first step in winning any struggle is to acknowledge that it exists in the first place. Though Groeschel has placed the individual struggles from numbers 1 to 8, it does not exactly tell us of any sequential pattern. I suspect that he knows not every struggle will be immediately relevant to every reader. In fact, there could more more struggles not listed in this book. The point is, we must all wake up to the digital threats that are evoking emotions that pound at our spiritual selves day by day.

How do we keep technology in its place? Groeschel goes back to the story in John 5:6 where Jesus asked the lame man whether he wanted to get well. We are reminded about how persistent problems render ourselves helpless against change. If we want change for the better, we must do it as soon as possible. We cannot procrastinate. We must be aware that the longer we remain where we are, the less likely we are open to change. We give all kinds of excuses. We even compensate for the weaknesses due to our stubborn refusal to change. With the ten commandments of social media, Groeschel has given us a very practical overview of the dangers and deceptions of technology. It is very revealing of what technology can do to us. With the quick pace of technological advancements, this book's specifics will only be relevant for a while. Once we have a new technological invention, or some updated version of digital app that revolutionize the way we live, we will have to think of new ways to address the consequences. For now, Groeschel's book is highly relevant, very readable, and immensely practical. I strongly recommend this book for those of us trapped in an endless loop of activities in a technological world. Technology may be able to live on a culture of always-on 24x7 environment. Not humans.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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